Toronto Star Story Highlights Legal CoachingNSRLP
Last Saturday’s Toronto Star carried a feature article focusing on potential “solutions” for SRLs.The feature canvassed innovative developments in the US, UK and Canada.
Each story segment highlighted ways in which those without a full legal qualification – including law students – could nonetheless offer significant assistance to SRLs. In the US, Judge Fern Fisher described New York’s “Court Navigator” program that began by using law students to “steer” SRLs through the courts, and has now grown into an institutionalized program with more than (paid and voluntary) 60 Navigators.
The Canadian story segment featured Windsor Law’s student coaching program, in which local SRLs are matched with law students who can offer legal information, assistance with forms and perhaps most of all, a listening ear and a sense of perspective (law students cannot give any legal advice). William Good, a Windsor Law student who worked in a voluntary capacity with a SRL for six months in 2014 commented: “Most self-represented litigants just want somebody to hear them — being able to talk about their problem without somebody judging them…(this SRL) knew what her legal issues were. She needed somebody who could help her see through the mud….”
At the NSRLP, we also see opportunities for lawyers to use their knowledge and experience to offer coaching that includes some legal advice https://representingyourselfcanada.com/2013/12/14/seriously-lawyers-coaching-srls-in-self-advocacy/ on an “unbundled” basis. Julie recently conducted a workshop for the Nova Scotia Barristers Society on how lawyers might offer and market legal coaching to SRLs.
The final story segment from the UK focused on the use of use of McKenzie Friends (MFs) (McKenzie v McKenzie  P 33;  3 WLR 472;  3 All ER 1034, CA). With the agreement of the presiding judge, MFs can accompany those without representation to hearings, take notes and offer support, as long as they do not address the court themselves. In the UK, a “professional association” for McKenzie friends (w is designed to give the role credibility and provide standards to which all members must sign up (http://www.mckenziefriends.directory/index.html). The site lists sixteen MFs who specify their area of expertise, and charge between $55 and $100 an hour.
In Canada, a request for a MF is usually likely to be from a friend or family member. There appears to be relatively little knowledge and experience of the use of MFs in Canada (although see David Mossop’s excellent paper at http://www.friendsoffreedominternational.org/articles.php?command=show&ID=13751&tID=3 and many SRLs are unaware of the possibility of asking the judge to allow them to have a MF.
For this reason, Osgoode graduate student Judy da Silva will be working with NSRLP this summer to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the potential role of a MF in Canadian courts. Judy will first conduct interviews with judges asking for their direction and guidance on when they might agree to allow a MF to sit with a SRL in their courtroom. She will then develop a NSRLP primer for SRLs on how to best present a case for bringing a MF, into court with them, as well as what type of person makes a good MF. Look forward to future announcements about the launch of this new resource, expected in Fall 2015.